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Public broadcaster to reinstate former exec with close ties to Abe administration

Yuji Itano (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Public broadcaster NHK has decided to reinstate former executive director Yuji Itano, whose close ties to the government have been called into question, in an extremely rare move, those close to the broadcaster said.

Itano, 65, who currently serves as president and chief executive officer of affiliate NHK Enterprises Inc., previously served as NHK's executive director under the leadership of former President Katsuto Momii, who made controversial remarks that suggested the public broadcaster should be loyal to the government. Itano was known as a sympathizer of Momii.

The reinstatement of Itano, who is said to have reflected the government's views in producing and broadcasting programs, has sparked criticism even within the public broadcasting corporation.

The executive director is the third highest-ranking post in NHK's board following the president and executive vice president. Currently, there are three executive directors. Itano will be officially appointed to the position on April 25 if the Board of Governors approves it at a meeting on April 9.

Itano was appointed as a senior director in 2012 after serving as head of the broadcaster's business news division and chief of the internal audit bureau. He served as executive director for two years from April 2014 under the leadership of Momii.

Itano extended all-out support to Momii while the then NHK president repeated remarks that have raised questions as to whether he was qualified to serve as head of the public broadcaster and his relations with other board members had chilled, according to those close to the NHK. During his tenure, Momii repeated comments that suggested that the public broadcaster should be loyal to the government by saying things like, "If the government says go right, you just can't say you'll go left."

Hiroko Kuniya (Mainichi/Yoshinori Matsuda)

In March 2016, Hiroko Kuniya stepped down as the caster of NHK's prime-time investigative news show "Close-up Gendai" (Today's Close-up), sparking speculation about the reason.

According to multiple individuals close to NHK, Itano, who then headed its General Broadcasting Administration, played a leading role in forcing Kuniya to step down against the backdrop of criticism of the TV program within the government.

Itano is also said to have instructed his subordinates not to broadcast multiple programs on security issues when the Diet was deliberating bills to open the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in a limited manner, citing difficulties in maintaining political neutrality in individual programs.

One insider expressed concerns that NHK's reinstatement of Itano as executive director could adversely affect its news reporting and program production.

"The move could hurt those involved in broadcasting. The reappointment will inevitably come under fire both within the broadcaster and from outsiders, considering past backgrounds," the individual said.

(Japanese original by Hisanori Yashiro and Tomohiro Inoue, Cultural News Department)

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